At my father’s house, which we have invaded with Christmas spirit, there are 3 dogs, two of whom we gave him when his older ones died. Having just lost my two dogs from unexpected illness, it is hard to be around them; but for the most part they are reticent of us since they don’t see as too often. There is only one who has insisted on befriending me; he finds me alone writing or lighting the charcoal grill to save gas, and cautiously and with great deference approaches me with wagging tail. He reminds me of Vannesa (but DON’T tell her I said that!). They are both so emotionally naïve and thus able to love with unabashed intuition; she and he, both have the ability and willingness to invoke restraint in their affection the minute they feel their “caretakers” demand it. I think this is okay for a puppy, but it frightens me with Vannesa.
If Vannesa isn’t telling one of her usual stories (Once upon a time…) she will indulge in a quick gossip session with the equally ritualistic words of “Can I tell you?”, often followed by the command: “But DON’T tell [so-and-so]!”. This command is a habit I hope to break her of as I prove my trustworthiness, while teaching her the difference between stories and secrets (a difference I have faith in but have never thought to articulate).
Yesterday, she gave me a mixed dose. What began as a story: “Once upon a time…”, “time, time, time”, I eagerly replied (I’m adoring the depth that this ritual gives these moments), also contained the distinction of secrecy: “But DON’T tell Mukaka!” (grandmother-my mother). And then in her stunted, halting, lyrical tone-often stopping to correct her English she told me of a memory; this is the edited version:
One day, when I was 5 or 6 years old, mummy was sick-but not sick like…like when she went to die, eh? She was sick with flu-okay, not flu, but also cough and when her legs were paining so she almost couldn’t walk. So mummy told me to go and make porridge. And I was sooo happy; (in song) ‘I’m going to cook por-ridge, I’m going to cook por-ridge…’ And while I was cooking a man, who was NOT family (you know, mummy showed me ALL of our family, so that I know who we are). So that man came into the house and mummy was shouting, so I came in and said ‘eh! Who do you think you are? You’re not my family, who are you?!?’ And he said, ‘MOVE!’ And mummy said, ‘SHUT UP!!’ And I laughed and laughed-I like that word, ‘shuttup’. And mummy took me into another room and told me to abuse this man and tell him to go and that he was not welcome. Then there were visitors arriving, my two uncles. Mummy said, ‘you see this man, he is coming into our house even though he is not our family!’ And my uncles shouted at the man and started beating him. One uncle was even about to cut his legs, and I said, ‘Nooooo!’ Then I pushed him like this...like this, out of the door and took his shoes and threw them. Then mummy said to my uncles (in whispers) ‘thank you, he was about to kill me.’ And I tell you? The porridge got burnt and I had to make another one-hahaha.
I feel guilty telling this story-someone else’s story-with such ease, when I cannot seem to find the words to tell my own. Why is it so much easier to write of my life through my relationship with the Little One, as it happens right now, but I cannot find the language to write of my life as it happened 20 years ago; to write of things I swear I healed long ago? But I have insisted this post be used for weighing up; calculating the different stories; putting them in their rightful places; demanding they add up to something that makes sense. And this blog has insisted it is to be ruthless in its mission, ‘I must write it plainly and thoroughly-poetically or not’; there is a message I am seeking, there is a message I need to be found…
Was this story told to me before or after the shouting in the living room?